Dear Editor,

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic on a global scale, leaders were faced with the responsibility of doing everything necessary to mitigate the spread of the deadly virus and balance the scales of the economy and safety of their countries and constituents.

To a great extent, a huge amount of time and effort focused on the implementation of lockdowns, quarantines, and later, treatments and measures necessary to curb the spread of the virus. In doing so, one crisis may have been contained, but another proliferated. The proliferation of the crisis I am referring to is domestic violence.

Statistics from the National Institutes of Health illustrate that in the United States, domestic violence reports increased by more than 8% during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the V.I. Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit, there has been an increase in reports of domestic violence territorywide. In my opinion, the aforementioned statistics represent the floor where reporting is concerned. This is primarily due to the fact that many are still inhibited to report instances of domestic violence over fear of being ostracized, stigmatized and retaliated against by their abusers.

These statistics further support the theory that the latent/secondary effects of the pandemic will be more far-reaching and linger for a greater amount of time than initially thought and conceptualized. Consequently, there is no doubt that the secondary effects of the pandemic — lockdowns, financial insecurity from job loss, school closures and in some instances, the need for essential employees to work longer etc. — have attributed to adverse effects on families and households. In many instances, this has manifested in the form of domestic violence and/or abuse.

As a victim advocate and social worker, I became increasingly concerned to see the almost daily reports of domestic violence in the media. This served as a constant reminder that as a community we must remain engaged, alert and focused on leading with love. Domestic violence continues to permeate every single sector of our communities and due to the current times we live in, many are forced to remain at home, as prisoners to the same persons who inflict hurt, abuse and control to the point of peril.

Additionally, COVID-19 has disrupted the ability of our children to seek shelter in the safety of their schools, and adults in their places of employment. It is important to note that domestic violence can potentially affect any human despite their socioeconomic status, class, gender or age. Most importantly, it is critical for victims of domestic violence to realize that it is never their fault and that it is NOT okay to suffer in silence.

Moreover, we see examples of children who are kicked, punched and sexually abused by those who are expected to nurture, protect and love them. Then we wonder why violence and hate continue to permeate our islands and communities? Simply stated, hurt, broken children evolve into hurt, broken adults, hence the continued perpetuation of the vicious cycle of violence.

Let us not neglect to acknowledge the responsibilities of critical government agencies in eradicating the plague of domestic violence, such as V.I. Police Department, the Department of Justice, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Education. I am pleading to the leadership of those agencies to create and adhere to consistent information where roles and procedures are concerned. These roles and procedures are to be followed as we work collectively to eradicate domestic violence.

In the past, the implementation of multi-disciplinary teams have been effective by providing wraparound services to victims while providing a safe and nurturing environment when they courageously report cases of domestic violence. We must remember, just as we create task forces to combat this deadly pandemic, the same is required to annihilate domestic violence in our communities — unity is strength!

Special commendation and great gratitude are extended to the men and women who tirelessly and selflessly serve at the Family Resource Center on St. Thomas and the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix. Your efforts to provide a safe, nonjudgmental, loving environment to victims of domestic violence is gratefully appreciated. It forever leaves an indelible mark on the lives you positively impact on a daily basis. To you I say, a heartfelt THANK YOU!

With this year’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month behind us, I implore all to say something, if you see something. Pay close attention to your friends, family and neighbors because there may be some suffering in silence. To the frontline heroes who courageously work on a 24-hour basis to heal our nation, we salute you. To the leaders who are responsible for creating policies to protect the women, men and children of our community, stay woke. Domestic Violence affects the fabric of our society and our economy. Please make fighting domestic violence a priority.

I take a moment to salute my mentor and spiritual mother Dilsa Capdeville. Decades ago, the universe inspired this amazing woman to co-found the Women’s Resource Center, now known as Family Resource Center, as well as Kidscope Inc. Both were created with the intention of creating a safe environment for victims of domestic violence and abuse.

In doing so, Dilsa has selflessly dedicated her life to service and the empowerment of countless women and children in our communities. Her contributions to our local community are immeasurable and her stellar example of service above self is one we should all strive to emulate. Her words are those we should all strive to live by: “Take care of you. Stand in your beauty and power. All will be well.”

Loved and revered by many, we salute our unsung hero Dilsa today and every day.

— Rosie DeFreitas, St. Thomas